Just getting started Federal judge marks first year with Eastern District


By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

Growing up, Mark A. Goldsmith knew by the end of high school that he wanted to go into a career in law. And his desire for that came from President John F. Kennedy.

"He was an inspiration for so many members of my generation," Goldsmith said. "He made public service something that was highly visible, and portrayed it as a noble venture."

Now, some 40 years later, Goldsmith is not only in public service, he's just finished his first year as a U.S. District Court judge for the Eastern District of Michigan.

"I've enjoyed it thoroughly, and it's immensely satisfying," he said. "I literally come to my job everyday excited to learn something."

Goldsmith, 58, of Detroit, was nominated for his federal judgeship by President Barack Obama in February 2010, and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate several months later. He took the bench in July 2010, assigned to the U.S. District Court post in Flint. He said the past year has gone by very quickly.

"My colleagues on the bench have been very welcoming, and that work has been as exciting as I expected it to be," Goldsmith said.

Prior to his appointment, Goldsmith spent six years as an Oakland County Circuit Court judge, and he said there are differences between the two judgeships.

"It has taken some time to adjust and adapt to those differences, and I'm still learning," he said. "But that's part of what makes it an enjoyable experience."

Goldsmith's enjoyable experience through life and a successful legal career began in Detroit.

"I loved growing up there," he said. "I'm a city boy."

He fondly remembers taking a bus downtown with his mother to shop at Hudson's, or taking the bus to attend Cass Tech High School, or go to movies, bowling alleys and Tigers baseball games with friends.

He also took an interest in law, government and politics. Goldsmith also became interested in theater. But while his brother became a professional actor, Goldsmith took inspiration from Kennedy, and then-Senator Philip Hart of Michigan, and decided the law was his future.

"We were blessed with extraordinarily gifted public servants," he said, and his life course was set.

He had an uncle who was a lawyer, and that career drew him.

"The law at that time was a very prominent profession in the 1960s," he said.

Goldsmith saw how lawyers were at the forefront of society, whether in court litigating serious matters, or in Congress, and even in the White House.

"Lawyers were making profound changes in our society," Goldsmith said. "And I thought that would be a great avenue to pursue to try and play a role in making society a better place."

After graduating from high school, Goldsmith went to the University of Michigan, obtaining a bachelor's degree in economics in 1974. His interests then were in political science, economics and history, and he said he "wrestled" with which of those three fields to major in, but decided his best choice was economics.

"That would provide me with some very solid tools that would help me, no matter where my law would take me," Goldsmith decided.

He figured that -- as a practicing attorney, working for the government, running for office or teaching law -- an economics major would force him to "learn some pretty rigorous tools."

Goldsmith also was chairman of the Central Student Judiciary at U-M, handling discipline and other student matters, which was a "helpful experience" for his later exploits. He also was a news editor at the student radio station, and co-founder and first editor-in-chief of the Michigan Undergraduate Journal of Economics.

"All those activities helped solidify my career path," he said.

After graduating, Goldsmith opted to attend the Harvard Law School. He said spending his entire life in Michigan made him want to "spread his wings" and compete with scholars from not only across America, but also from the world. The prestigious school also boasted of having some of the finest legal minds as professors.

"I thought it would make for a solid legal education," Goldsmith said. "And I was fortunate to be surrounded by so many gifted people who made the law school experience a challenging one and a very invigorating one."

Many fellow students and professors Goldsmith came in contact with were helpful in developing him as the lawyer and jurist he was to become, he said. And a significant number of students went on to successful careers in private practice, government work, the judiciary and academia.

But his studies left little time to enjoy the things the Boston area is famous for, like the Red Sox, the Bruins hockey team, or the nightlife.

"I was pretty serious about my studies," Goldsmith said. "I tried to take full advantage of the good fortune I had to go there."

He worked in the summers, one as an intern at a law firm, to help pay for tuition and spending cash. Goldsmith took advanced courses in civil procedure, constitutional law, corporate transactions, trial advocacy, labor and anti-trust, and after graduating cum laude in 1977, was hired by a large firm in Manhattan.

But after about 18 months, he moved back to Michigan after his father suffered a stroke.

"That was a pull to come back home," he said. And while he enjoyed working at the New York firm, he didn't feel like that was the place he wanted to settle down. "I was a Michigan, Midwest person," he said.

He not only returned home. He also found a wife. Goldsmith said he was at a singles dance at a Jewish center in the mid-1980s when he met his future wife, Judy.

"Our eyes locked across a crowded dance floor, and the rest is history," he said.

Married now for 22 years, the couple has a daughter, Molly, and a stepson, Jared, and live in Oakland County.

Goldsmith worked as a sole practitioner, and at a Detroit law firm, and then applied for an open judgeship in Oakland County following the death of a sitting judge.

"I enjoyed the practice very much, but what I would enjoy even more would be spending all my energies in the area of public service," he said. "As judge I could make a difference very directly in peoples lives and help shape and form contours of law."

He was appointed to the bench in 2004, was elected later that same year, and re-elected in 2006. Goldsmith said the background and skills he obtained in legal practice, combined with the on-the-job training he received as judge and earlier as a part-time district court magistrate, were beneficial in sharpening his developing skills. Handling both civil and criminal cases, Goldsmith said he enjoyed different aspects of each - the "human drama" of criminal cases, and the "very knotty legal issues" that come in civil cases.

In 2009, Goldsmith said he was ready to take his career up a notch, and applied for a federal judgeship.

"I certainly enjoyed my experiences as a state judge, but I was hoping to take that experience and build on it in the federal context," he said.

"Federal judges often deal with issues that are national in scope, and touch on a variety of federal statutory schemes and constitution issues, and I thought that I would perhaps have a broader impact on the decisions I would be called upon to make," Goldsmith said.

Goldsmith said he has enjoyed his first year as a federal judge in Flint, saying the building is "charming," all the people "very friendly," and that Flint "has a real small town feel to it."

"That kind of intimacy is very enjoyable," he said.

Goldsmith said he misses the daily interaction with other judges and attorneys he had in Oakland, but he has a staff here, and a magistrate judge to mingle with. And he said the other federal judges "are only a telephone call or e-mail away" if he has questions.

For fun, Goldsmith said he enjoys reading, walking, working out, going to movies with his wife, spending time with his daughter before she goes off to college and enjoying his 16-month-old granddaughter. He's also a cantor at his Jewish services, chanting the phrases, but the only other singing he does is "in the shower."

When asked about his judicial demeanor, Goldsmith said that would be better answered by the attorneys who come before him.

"But I strive for a culture of civility," he said. "As worked up as we all get over a case, our job as professionals is to put aside the emotions and focus on the issues, and see how we can resolve a case."

Goldsmith said he tries to be fair, but knows that not everyone will leave his courtroom happy.

"I listen to what everyone has to say, and make sure I understand what their arguments are, and then do my best to understand what the law requires or allows, and give my unbiased view of what is the just and appropriate judicial answer," he said.

His hope is that, no matter what, people leave his court "knowing they got a fair hearing, a fair shake."

"I'll just keep working hard, and try to do justice."

Published: Wed, Aug 17, 2011